I have this theory about life. It’s not terribly groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it is something I think about whenever I’m worried or afraid to do something I think will improve my life. It goes like:
Now, this isn’t fear like “if I do that, I’m going to die,” although, some of those fears should also be faced. These fears come from without. The fear that someone else will see you doing a thing and judge it a waste of time. The fear that someone will take in the product of your labor and deem it unworthy. The fear that you will look silly.
The fear that you will fail.
That last one–that’s the big one, the reason most people don’t do things. That’s the reason why dreams lay by the side of the road, bloated in the ditch, as people drive past in their fuel-efficient vehicles acting like they don’t see them because someone else’s dead dreams might remind them of their own hope corpses. That’s why people die with regrets.
I don’t want that. I have no idea how long I’m going to be here. I can’t tell you whether I will die next week from some rare blood disease or hyper-aggressive cancer or stray bullet or Antifa brick to the head. I’m 37 years old and people younger than me die every single day.
So I decided a few years back that I wasn’t going to let any of that petty bullshit hold me back. I was going to do the things that made me and the people I care about happy. I was going to chase contentment. I decided I would keep working my normal job, because it pays the bills and doesn’t stress me out too much, but in my spare time, I was going to write a book, or two, or three.
In the process of all of this writing, I’ve discovered a lot about myself. For three years, I worked on writing this story. I wrote 300,000 words without a single thought to how good or bad it was. I just puked words out onto a page. It was glorious. Then I joined up with the community and started showing other writers my work.
Judgment came down from on high.
For the most part, people were positive, which was awesome. Some people were negative, which was less than awesome, but it helped to make the work better. Then this strange thing happened: I started having difficulty writing.
I would sit down at my keyboard and stare at it. My mind would go totally blank. I knew what I needed to write, but it wouldn’t come out. I would start typing, because that’s what you do when you get blocked, you just write. Write anything. It doesn’t matter. Just get the words flowing again.
Still, it was all crap. I would write and write and write and end up deleting it all the next day because it just sucked. Eventually, I would break through the barrier and something worth a damn would spew giddily from my story hole and my fingertips would hesitantly cram it onto a computer screen. Then a few weeks later, the cycle would repeat.
I noticed something after a while: Rarely did the block come on its own. There was something that incited it. Something that made my mind say “You’re not a writer today. Today you’re a failure.” And somewhere in the corner there was this weak little nerdy kid, with his hair parted on the side wearing a bolo tie sitting at his desk, who just couldn’t tell the voice that it was wrong (I have a picture of me looking exactly like that from like 4th grade, by the way. If you don’t believe me, ask my mother, I’m sure she’d happily show it to you and gush about how adorable I was). That kid would just agree and curl up in a ball and decide it wasn’t worth the effort if he was just going to fail anyway.
Here’s my thoughts on the matter: that kid’s wrong. Even if the voice is totally right and I’m a complete failure and not one single person ever enjoys the words I write down, that kid is still wrong. The value and beauty in life is in the living.
I’ll leave you with an exercise I do from time to time. I do this to make sure I’m living this life the way I want to, not the way someone else thinks I should. I do it when I feel like I’ve lost perspective and I need to remember the shit that matters.
Okay, relax. Here it is:
Contemplate for a moment the idea that one day you will die. Don’t think of it as an abstract idea. Really consider what those last moments will be like. Maybe you will die in your sleep, after a long struggle with an illness. You’ll lie in bed and your chest will feel heavy. Breathing is a chore and when you do manage a gasping wheeze, it isn’t enough to satisfy your need for oxygen. You close your eyes, and listen as the world hurdles through space. You can feel that the end is near and your essence will return to be among the forces of the universe.
What will you think in those last few breaths before you close your eyes and the darkness takes you? How satisfied will you be with the decisions you’ve made and the way you’ve spent the all-too-few and precious minutes you were given? Did you look at the things that were just too scary, the things that, while in the moment, seemed too big and daunting to reach for and turned away from them? Or did you, instead, listen to your heart–to your soul–and grab life by the balls and take the things you wanted as it screamed and fell to its knees begging for mercy? What things will you wish you had the chance to go back and do? What things will you regret as you lay there, contemplating the end?
Go do those fucking things.
Live your life as though you’re watching it from your deathbed. Because one day you will be.
Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.